Education Cannot Wait Interviews The Sunday Times Chief Foreign Correspondent, Best-Selling Author and ECW Global Champion, Christina Lamb

3 Juli 2024

By External Source
Jul 2 2024 (IPS-Partners)

Christina Lamb is Chief Foreign Correspondent at The Sunday Times and one of Britain’s leading foreign journalists as well as a bestselling author. She has been awarded Foreign Correspondent of the Year six times as well as Europe’s top war reporting prize, the Prix Bayeux, and was recently given the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award by the British Society of Editors and the Outstanding Impact Award by Amnesty International.

She is the best-selling author of ten books including Farewell Kabul, The Africa House, and The Sewing Circles of Herat and co-wrote the international bestseller I am Malala with Malala Yousafzai and The Girl from Aleppo with Nujeen Mustafa. Her book Our Bodies, Their Battlefields about sexual violence in conflict won the first Pilecki Institute award for war reporting and was shortlisted for Britain’s top non-fiction award, the Baillie Gifford Prize, as well as the Orwell Prize, the Kapuscinski Prize and the New York Public Library Bernstein award.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, an Honorary Fellow of University College Oxford, an International Board member of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, an Associate of the Imperial War Museum, and was made an OBE by the Queen in 2013.

Christina was a key-note moderator and participant during Education Cannot Wait’s “Spotlight on Afghanistan” session at last year’s High-Level Financing Conference in Geneva. In June 2023, Christina Lamb was appointed as an ECW Global Champion.

ECW: The 14th of June 2024 marked 1,000 days since the ban of girls’ secondary education in Afghanistan. On that tragic milestone, ECW launched phase two of its global #AfghanGirlsVoices advocacy campaign. In addition to the campaign, how can the world further activate political leadership and how can global partners – UN, CSOs, Governments and the public – help support a return to schooling for all girls in Afghanistan?

Christina Lamb: We should all feel ashamed that there is a country on the planet in 2024 where girls are not allowed to go to school. Yet, three years after the Taliban takeover, sometimes it feels as if the world has just moved on. Meanwhile girls in Afghanistan are losing hope. Unfortunately, the Taliban is a reality, but no one I know in Afghanistan wants their daughters imprisoned at home. This needs to be called out as what it is – gender apartheid. I think any engagement with the Taliban by the international community should be conditional and all global partners should be doing everything to put pressure on them, if not directly, then through others that the Taliban listen to, such as leaders from the Islamic world and influential clerics. Personally, I raise the issue at every platform I can. In the meantime, we should do everything we can to support girls through online learning, by providing books and materials to the brave activists running home schools, and by sharing #AfghanGirlsVoices.

ECW: You are a leading, credible and authentic voice on girls’ and women’s rights, a best-selling author, and a tireless advocate for the world’s most vulnerable people. Why do you do what you do, what stories of girls caught in crisis and denied their right to education have inspired you most, and why did you decide to become an ECW Global Champion?

Christina Lamb: I started my career really wanting to be a novelist, but found real life stories so compelling, perhaps particularly as the first place I went to as a foreign correspondent was Afghanistan, a land of oral tradition and great storytellers. I see my job as telling stories for those who have no platform and have always been motivated by exposing injustice.

I have now been a foreign correspondent for 36 years and wherever I have worked – from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe – it has always seemed clear to me that the single biggest thing that changes people’s lives is education, and particularly girls’ education. Teaching girls leads to improved health and raises family income – statistics bear out what I have seen for myself.

As a mother, it also makes me so sad that there are millions of children out of school. Education is a right, not a privilege – yet, shockingly, there are currently more than 224 million crisis-affected children and adolescents who urgently need education support, so anything we can do to raise awareness and change that, we should. For all these reasons, I am very happy to be an ECW Global Champion.

Though I spend much of my time in dark places, it’s in those places I often find inspiring people. Perhaps because I am a woman, they mostly seem to be women. I was lucky enough to work with Malala, who was shot by the Taliban simply for wanting to go to school and helped write her book I Am Malala. And Nujeen Mustafa, a girl from Aleppo who never went to school in Syria because she has cerebral palsy and couldn’t walk yet taught herself fluent English from watching the American soap opera Days of Our Lives and can recite all the kings and queens of England, not to mention the Romanovs.

ECW: We live in challenging times. Overseas development assistance is shrinking, while armed conflicts hit inflection points in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan and beyond, and climate change impacts continue to increase – all impacting vulnerable children’s right to education. Why should public and private sector donors provide increased funding for education in emergencies and protracted crises?

Christina Lamb: We certainly do live in challenging times and my job as a war correspondent has never been so busy, for we have fewer correspondents yet more conflicts than at any time since World War II. Sadly, we don’t seem very good at focusing on more than one or two issues at a time, so conflicts like Afghanistan, Sudan and Ethiopia are being forgotten. Moreover, many people in developed nations are suffering cost of living crises, seeing their own healthcare systems unable to cope, and want to close their borders to desperate people coming in. That’s exactly why we should help people in their countries, to help them find employment and their rights be protected at home. Public and private sector donors can play an important role by increasing their funding for education in emergencies.

ECW: Your book Our Bodies, Their Battlefields, takes us closer than ever to the stark reality facing girls and women during armed conflicts. How can access to the safety, hope and opportunity of quality education safeguard human rights and provide new opportunities for girls and women everywhere?

Christina Lamb: As a female war correspondent, I’ve always been most interested in what happens to women in war, a story that long went untold. To me, women are the real heroes of the war as they are the ones keeping life together, educating and protecting children and the elderly. But there is also a dark side – the use of sexual violence and rape against women and girls, something that seems to be happening more and more, most recently in Ukraine and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet the use of sexual violence is the world’s most neglected war crime, where accountability is the exception, not the rule. Access to quality education teaches girls about their rights – but also the boys. From what I have seen, there is very little point of making women aware of their rights if you don’t do anything to change the male mindset.

ECW: Millions have read your best-selling books I Am Malala, Nujeen, Our Bodies, Their Battlefield and The Prince Rupert Hotel for the Homeless. We all know that ‘readers are leaders’ and that reading skills are key to every child’s education. What are three books that have most influenced you personally and/or professionally, and why would you recommend them to others?

Christina Lamb: I read all the time – non-fiction about issues I am covering, but also novels for enjoyment and to switch off in traumatic situations. Usually my favourite book is the one I have just read. But three books that stand out for me are: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini; The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexeivich; and The Picnic by Matthew Longo.